JAZZ REVIEW : Drummer T.S. Monk Proves Son Can Also Shine : Rather than simply rehashing tunes in Coach House show, he expands on the tradition of his heroes, including his father.
T.S. Monk may be his father’s son, but he’s his own man as well.
The drummer led his sextet Thursday before a small crowd at the Coach House, showing that while he’s a champion of his late father’s legacy, his musical direction differs substantially.
In fact, Monk Jr., with his three-horn front line, seems closer in musical spirit to the late Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers than to his dad’s quartets and trios. And drummer Monk prefers material dating back to the Messengers’ hey-days, the hard-bop period of the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, and such writers as trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonists Hank Mobley and Clifford Jordan and trombonist J.J. Johnson.
That’s not to suggest that Monk the younger avoided his father’s compositions. He played both the well-known “ ‘Round Midnight” (heard on drummer Monk’s recent “Take One” release) and the lesser-known, but fascinating “Monk’s Dream” (not on the album).
His group’s approach on both tunes was less like that of their composer, who emphasized the piano and his own quirky style, and more like the polished horn section arrangements of the Jazz Messengers.
Trumpeter Don Sickler’s arrangement of “ ‘Round Midnight"--Sickler does almost all the arranging for the T.S. Monk band--was a sleek, swinging affair, unlike the melancholy tempo most often associated with the tune.
Sickler capitalized on the stepped-up pace, tearing off long, crisp lines that managed to say a lot though confined to a narrow range. The trumpeter was pushed through his solo by strong accompaniment from pianist Ronnie Mathews, whose chords came as offhanded remarks in Sickler’s running commentary.
Tenor saxophonist Willie Williams worked a boisterous tone and punctual chop-chop phrases among his fleet, rolling statements during J.J. Johnson’s “Kelo.” The saxophonist brought excitement to everything he played, hinting at Coltrane here, playing with a surfeit of breath there and generally raising the temperature every time he stepped forward.
On “Monk’s Dream,” Williams took a more psychological approach, balancing spaced-out phrases with rants and raves.
Alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli came bubbling out of the lower register to begin his solo on Mobley’s up-tempo “Infra-Rae,” then kept the heat up with strings of furious phrases.
Porcelli has extended the style of the late Cannonball Adderley, showing some of Adderley’s propulsion and soul, while playing with a density that, at times, made his sound nearly opaque. Though his solo on the encore, Dorham’s “Minor’s Holiday,” was short, it was his most volatile.
Mathews took a bluesy, chordal approach during “Monk’s Dream,” but his best moments came when he was unwinding long, detailed lines with his right hand, as he did during “Infra-Rae.”
At times, Mathews recalled McCoy Tyner’s attack. But before reaching the point of sounding derivative, he would veer away with unexpected chordal clusters and quotes from other Monk tunes.
Bassist Scott Colley worked with accurate, well-defined tones and soloed with melodic flare. He brightened “Monk’s Dream” with quick, graceful phrases that covered the full-range of his instrument.
If the Jazz Messengers seem a model for Monk’s band, Blakey’s drumming style has also had an influence on Monk’s percussive play.
Monk’s rhythmic drive and way of unleashing press rolls over the music’s changes all recalled Blakey. A sharp timekeeper, his work was full of accents and punctuation in response to what the rest of the band was doing.
But Monk also added an element of funk (he led an R & B band in the early ‘80s) to Clifford Jordan’s “Middle of the Block” and showed a degree of sensitivity with the brushes on Idress Sulieman’s “Waiting.”
To his credit, Monk took no long, overindulgent drum solos. Instead, when left on his own, Monk would stir things up quickly with clever snare and tom-tom exchanges powered by strong footwork on the bass drum, then get back to ensemble play.
Though others, most notably Wynton Marsalis, have spent time revisiting the glory days of hard-bop and the spirit of Blakey’s Messengers, criticism of the T.S. Monk band as just another revivalist ensemble mining the music of 30 and more years ago seems misdirected.
Monk is digging up tunes that, despite their worthiness, have largely been ignored, Sulieman’s “Waiting” being a good example. The band also has worked up new editions of such standards as “ ‘Round Midnight.”
He applies modern touches (arranger Sickler deserves credit) and virtuosity, while opening them up for the improvisations of his fellow band members. Rather than rehashing, Monk has expanded on the tradition of his heroes Dorham, Mobley, Sulieman and, yes, Thelonious Monk. And that’s exactly what jazz needs.
What jazz doesn’t need is the kind of music played by opening act Sound Minds. This riff-ridden, overly loud quartet of sax, guitar, bass and drums (and an unhealthy dose of pre-programmed keyboards) played cliched material that was irritating, dull and poorly executed.
These guys should consider doing some woodshedding to tighten up their sound (and their material) before going public again.